A cognac 100 years in the making
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There are cognacs and then there’s Louis XIII. In the world of high-end spirits, this blended cognac from the House of Rémy Martin holds a special place. Drunk by royalty (it was served to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth I in the Palace of Versailles, and to Nicholas II, the last emperor of Russia), and a favourite with former US president Barack Obama and actor Leonardo di Caprio, Louis XIII was the first “super-premium” cognac created back in 1874. The Rémy Martin family settled in the Cognac region during the reign of Louis XIII, which is why this “King of Cognacs” is named after him.
Alexandre Quintin, international brand ambassador, House of Rémy Martin, was in India recently. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How is Louis XIII made?
Rémy Martin is based in the heart of the Cognac region, the very best place where you have special grapes (Ugni blanc, Folle blanche or Colombard) for making cognac. We make the wine and then distil it twice to get what we call the eau de vie, the life-giving water. The cellar master then selects the eaux de vie with the best aromatic potential, the ones that can age the longest to create more aromas. These are aged in French oak barrels and they will become Louis XIII one day. The cellar master puts these aside for decades, till he retires, and his successor carries on crafting the cognac till it’s ready, 100 years later. Louis XIII is a blend of more than 1,200 cognacs, of which the youngest is 40 years old and the oldest, 100 years old. So it’s a very special cognac, almost like a perfume, incredibly rich with a silky texture and a taste that will last for hours.
What are the tasting notes?
Louis XIII is extraordinary on the palate; the different notes come like waves. There are some rare floral notes such as immortelle, what we call everlasting flowers, honeysuckle, and beeswax, even honey. On the fruity side, you will find tropical fruits—lychee and figs, very mature and juicy fruits. These notes come from the fruits and flowers of Cognac and are infused in the eaux de vie. There are oaky notes too, a bit of mushroom and the forest floor, perhaps tobacco and even chocolate. The oaky, spicy notes come from the ageing, from the contact with wood—you may find a hint of vanilla in the young eaux de vie, while the very old ones might give you leather. It’s a very complex drink.
How do cellar masters work their magic upon the drink?
The cellar master is an expert in wine and an incredible taster; his nose is worth a lot of money. He is the guardian of the Rémy Martin style and is responsible for the blending and ageing of Louis XIII. It’s his job to select the best eaux de vie based on their aromatic intensity, then to select the barrels and the specific cellars in which the cognac will be aged. We have both underground and over-ground cellars in Cognac with different temperatures and humidity conditions. He also has to put eaux de vie aside for the future generations of cellar masters, all the while maintaining the consistency of Louis XIII. Our current cellar master is quite young, just 38 years-old, and has been with us for the past eight years, of which he spent seven as an apprentice to the previous cellar master. The best compliment you can give him is, “You haven’t changed anything.”
Even the decanters seem special. What goes into making them?
The cognac is definitely the most precious part, but yes, the decanters themselves are quite special. In 1936, we commissioned Baccarat to make them. They are all handmade and hand-engraved, with a 24-carat gold neck. Nine master craftsmen at Baccarat are needed to make a single decanter.
How does the connoisseur drink Louis XIII?
Louis XIII is a very special cognac so we don’t recommend any mixology with it. Because there’s so much flavour to discover, we suggest that you should drink it neat, ideally at room temperature (18-22 degrees Celsius). Having said that, I have had it in Norway, where it was very chilly, and in Cuba, where the temperature was above 35 degrees Celsius. Drinking Louis XIII was a whole new experience there—in Cuba, it was like biting into a juicy fruit, whereas in Norway the oaky and spicy notes were highlighted. You can drink Louis XIII before dinner when your palate is clean and the farthest away from food, when you’re most receptive to the aromas and textures of the cognac. Always start with one drop because it’s very dense and you will have this explosion of aromas. Then your palate is ready and you can drink some more. Louis XIII can also be had as a post-dinner drink.
Does it pair particularly well with any food or cigars?
Louis XIII pairs beautifully with foods like caviar, lobster, or pata negra ham. We tried it with Indian food the other day, and it was very interesting with tandoori lamb. If you’re a cigar smoker, the fruity notes of Louis XIII work very well with Cuban cigars like Cohiba.
Louis XIII has been imported to India for seven years. How has the Indian market taken to it?
Sula Vineyards is our distributor in India and they have done a great job of showcasing it in all the five-star hotels here. We think there is a lot of potential in India, a market that loves its whisky and single malt, so the palates are already into aged spirits. The move to cognac is natural. Also, Indians travel so much to London, New York, and Dubai, where the Louis XIII brand is already strong, so they have heard of it and perhaps even tasted it. We occasionally organize private dinners and tastings to introduce more Indians to the exquisite taste of Louis XIII, and we are quite hopeful of its success here.